Signs of Labor
A Guide from Ventura County Obstetrics and Gynecology
Not every woman will experience labor and delivery in the exact same way. This can make it difficult to explain when a person will know that they are in labor if they have never experienced such an occurrence before. Thankfully, there are a few signs and symptoms that all women can consistently look for in the first few days prior to going into labor.
Your Cervix Begins to Thin
As your uterus prepares for delivery, it will start to stretch in order to create a thinner cervix that will dilate more easily. This process is known as effacement, and will gradually occur during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
You’re No Longer Short of Breath
While your baby is growing larger, it is perfectly normal for them to press on nearby internal organs and bodily structures, including your diaphragm. Contractions of the diaphragm are what allow all of us to breathe in and out. Naturally, when a growing fetus begins to push against the diaphragm, the muscle is no longer able to expand quite as far as it used to, leaving many expectant mothers out of breath.
If you notice that your breaths are suddenly able to be much deeper and longer, it most likely means that the baby has dropped. This happens when the fetus is getting close to making their way through the birth canal, meaning that labor is getting closer.
It is also common for women to experience more intense pressure on their bladder once their baby drops, so you may also notice increased discomfort in this area along with more frequent urges to urinate.
You Have So Much More Energy
Lots of friends and family members have probably been asking if you have begun to nest yet. All of these questions are related to this one particular symptom.
When the nesting stage takes hold, many women will experience a sudden burst of energy. This often motivates them to complete a whole slew of tasks such as cleaning, buying needed supplies and baby clothes, and any other preparation that still has to get done before baby arrives.
All of this is happening because your body intrinsically knows that your baby will soon be on the way, so it’s instinct to want to run around and take advantage of this newfound energy. Try to remind yourself that the biggest hurdle has yet to come, and you will need all the extra energy that you can get once you actually start to go into labor. Rather than taking on your to-do list all at once, start with just a few simple tasks at a time to make it easier on yourself in the long run.
Your Mucus Plug Pops
Once the baby is ready to make their exit, the thick plug of mucus that protects the opening of the cervix will start to break down. This allows the cervix to begin opening freely so that the baby will be able to make their way out of the uterus during delivery.
Technically, to say that this plug “pops” is not entirely correct. Instead, this symptom will appear as a clear, pink, or slightly bloody discharge. Not all women will notice the loss of their mucus plug, so don’t worry if this particular sign of labor seems to pass you by.
Your Water Breaks
Perhaps the most noticeable sign of labor, the breaking or leaking of the amniotic sac is a symptom that all women look for when questioning whether or not they may be about to go into labor. Unfortunately, even this sign is not always crystal clear as only 10% of pregnant women will experience the kind of dramatic scenario we often see in movies.
More often, women will notice a small trickle of fluid that is similar to urination. It is also not uncommon for urine to actually leak from the bladder due to the pressure being placed on it during the last few days leading up to labor. In order to differentiate between amniotic fluid and urine, you will need to determine if the fluid has an odor. If there is no smell, then it is likely that your amniotic membranes have ruptured slightly, meaning your water has broken.
You’re Starting to Dilate
Before the baby is able to pass through the birth canal, the cervix must open further and further until it is wide enough to allow a child through. This process is called dilation, which is measured in centimeters. Once a woman’s cervix has dilated to 10 centimeters she is considered fully dilated and ready to give birth.
It is important to remember that you cannot measure the dilation of your cervix on your own. This will need to be evaluated by your obstetrician.
You Experience Consistent Contractions
No matter what signs of labor you have or have not noticed up to this point, you will definitely know that you are in labor once your uterus begins to contract in a persistent pattern. It is important to track how close together your contractions are, as their duration and spacing will help determine just how close you actually are to delivering.
Many women’s contractions will begin by being 20-30 minutes apart. This time between contractions will gradually shorten, and once she has reached 5 minutes or less between contractions it is time to call the hospital and prepare for the baby’s birth.